Toxic Relationships: Recovering From a Narcissist
There is Nothing More Toxic Than a Narcissist
My relationship with a narcissist changed me for the better. I’ve come a long way in the two years since that relationship ended. My wish is to offer hope to others who are in a relationship, or trying to end a relationship with a narcissist. It is undoubtedly one of the hardest toxic bonds to break. However, it can be done, and I’m living proof.
There is nothing quite so humiliating and hurtful as an intimate relationship with a narcissist. I dug around online in the aftermath of my breakup. I wanted to see if other people had recovered from the psychological fallout of this type of toxic relationship. I was surprised to find very little about actual recovery.
What I did discover online was a wealth of forums and articles about how to get away from the narcissist. There were plenty of tearful stories about the wreckage and psychological ruin. Unfortunately, there was very little about how people actually recovered successfully.
So I came up with my own plan to recover and move on from being psychologically mangled. The person I was with was incapable of treating me with dignity and respect – a typical narcissist trait.
I determined to rebuild my self-esteem from the inside out, so that I would never again be susceptible to an abusive relationship. I also wanted to reach a place where I was narcissist proof. I needed to appreciate my real value so that I could turn away toxic people and not look back.
Narcissists Have No Remorse
Waiting for a narcissist to change in to a decent human being is like waiting to spot a unicorn. It won’t happen - and your time and energy could be better spent on other things.
I spent two years hoping she would change. Two long years enduring someone who couldn’t really appreciate me, and who emotionally abused me on a regular basis. My self-esteem was in tatters.
At the time, I was unable to disconnect from this soul-crushing relationship. I just couldn’t find any detachment, even while things were getting worse. I knew I wanted out, but I couldn’t reach the exit.
The End of a Toxic Relationship is Like an Atomic Blast
The night of her holiday party was my wake-up call. Her behavior was so horrifying that I vowed to sever my connection to a person who didn’t seem human. I think everyone has a defining moment when they’re involved with a narcissist. In truth, there are usually many defining moments, but we tune them out. There’s usually a horrific event that alerts us, once and for all, that we need to go and never look back.
We were in the process of a breakup. The problem with a narcissist is that making a clean break is almost impossible. There a are a lucky few that are strong enough to do it - but mostly, by the time a break up is on the horizon, the partner of a narcissist is has been so beaten down psychologically they are unable to move.
Around the time we were attempting to break up, my ex narcissist decided to have a holiday party and invite a circle of acquaintances we both knew. She had invited me to spend New Year’s Eve with her, and I thought she extended an invitation to the Christmas Party. It never even occurred to me that I wouldn’t be welcome.
Even though I was tired from a long school year, I decided to surprise my ex -narcissist by putting in a surprise appearance at the party. It was a two-hour trip by train in sub-zero cold, but I was ready for a fun night and was willing to brave public transportation and the elements. I bought a nice bottle of liquor and a box of cookies and embarked on the trek.
I arrived with my gifts and a big smile on my face, ready for a good time. When I arrived, my ex took one look at me, and I knew immediately that something was wrong. My stomach knotted up. She looked at me like I was a homeless drunk who had just crashed her party. She clearly didn’t know what to do and was appalled that I was there. She ran into the other room to hide behind her guests.
I spent the next half hour milling around trying to figure out what to do with myself. The other guests could tell that my ex didn’t want me there, and they didn’t know what to do either – they were friends with both of us. I could not remember when I felt more uncomfortable, or awkward. I had been part of her life and welcome in her home for two years. Suddenly, I was an unwelcome intruder.
She actually stood in her living room with her back to me the entire time I was there. My time at the party didn’t last long – I lasted one half hour to be exact. It finally occurred to me that another partygoer was a person of interest to my ex. Before our relationship was even over, she had already picked out my replacement.
Narcissists Don’t Understand Love
This is a common, and disturbing, phenomenon amongst narcissists: They are unable to form healthy attachments with other human beings. So even though they may say they are in love, they always have their eye out for the next best thing. And there is always a next best thing.
The narcissist is incapable of settling down with one partner. Even if they are in what appears to be a committed marriage - rest assured they are dabbling on the side. They are consummate entertainers looking for devoted groupies. They are always on stage performing their one man, or one woman, show – because it really is all about them.
If there is the opportunity to get more attention and adoration from a potential love interest, the narcissist will take it. Anyone who thinks that their narcissist is capable of being faithful is fooling himself, or herself. They are always on the lookout for something better no matter what they say to the contrary.
When I realized I was not welcome at the party, I remember grabbing my coat, calling a cab to the train station and standing outside in the freezing cold. My emotions kept cycling through numb, horrified and heartbroken.
I felt like I was in a bad soap opera – standing in the freezing cold, sobbing over someone who had never been worth my time or energy from the very beginning. In that moment, I felt like the biggest fool on the planet. I vowed, in that moment, that this was really the last time. I would never attract, or be attracted to, someone this disturbed again.
She came running outside before my cab pulled up. She kept hugging me and she told me everything would be ok, that I shouldn’t have shown up to her party. She wasn’t expecting me, and she had wanted to spend the evening mingling as a single woman – never mind that our relationship wasn’t actually over. She was already in the market for her next conquest. She assured me that since we were spending New Year’s Eve together she would make it up to me then.
I stared at her in disbelief through my tears. I couldn’t believe this woman actually thought I would ever go near her, or her home, again. I knew that was the last time I would ever set foot in her house.
She gave one last big hug, handed me a tissue to dry my tears and put me in the cab. It never occurred to her that her behavior was abnormal. In her world, my part in her little play had ended. I was merely an extra who was no longer needed on the scene.
She called and emailed for three days. I refused to respond. She finally realized I was not returning for New Year’s Eve and gave up. What disturbed me the most was the fact that she actually thought I would return to spend time with her after my private, and public, humiliation.
We continued to stay sporadically in touch after the nightmarish party scene. She kept trying to explain behavior that was unexplainable. I still harbored a slim hope that she would somehow miraculously change into a caring, compassionate person. On my end I believe that’s referred to as magical thinking.
I spend a lot of time during our relationship hoping that would happen. However, waiting for someone to change is a sure sign of danger. They won’t, and I wasted a lot of time waiting, wishing and hoping.
As time went on, I noticed that she was repeating the same sad excuses over and over in her emails. I finally realized that she was never truly sorry to begin with and that she would never be sorry. I finally had to accept the truth.
The refusal to let go of the emotional connection was part of my own emotional fixation. I had the choice to walk away. I continued to hang on despite all evidence that I was better off shutting her out and moving on.
I wish I could say it ended there, but with a pathological narcissist it never ends right away – they like to leave a trail, and an opening, in case they need you in the future. Our communication continued off and on for a year, before I discovered that she was actually in a couple of relationships with other people while she was still communicating with me. So I would get emails about getting back together some day, while she was sleeping with other people. The reality of her manipulation finally set me free. I ended communication with her completely.
Even though I’d like to believe that my self-esteem was in fairly good shape, my relationship with the narcissist taught me that there were holes in my self-esteem that I was unaware of. Patching up the holes became my primary concern over the following year. At long last, taking care of me became my priority.
There were places in my psyche that needed healing, and the toxic relationship brought my most painful issues right up to the surface where they could get some air. I was able see what I was doing to myself by allowing such toxicity into my life. Anyone who’s with a narcissist is suffering from similar issues.
Sometimes, Contact Helps You See What You Need to See
The constant email and Facebook reminders that she really believed her aberrant behavior was out of character, and that she really believed herself to be a kind, caring soul became tiresome after awhile. I was listening to the same prepared speech over and over.
While no contact is ultimately the way to go…for some of us staying in contact almost builds our emotional immunity. The more you hear, the less you want to hear as time goes on. In my case, by the time I cut off contact it was just a relief. There was no longer sadness about the loss.
You’ve heard the same thing with your narcissist. Whether parent, friend or romantic interest, you’ve heard the speeches that rarely change except for a rearranged word or two. The speeches are designed around the same themes and each narcissist has their own special theme based around their unique brand of delusion and insanity:
*No one appreciates them or how wonderful they are.
*No one appreciates how much he or she suffers at the hands of others.
*Everyone else has a problem - they are perfect.
*They are just trying to do some good in a world where everyone is out to get them.
*Because they are special, other people must understand when they get upset and shut down or lash out.
*They don’t remember that they got upset then shut down and lashed out, and you must be crazy for accusing them of such behavior.
If you’ve experienced any of these scenarios with a narcissist, then you understand the how empty and desolate it feels when you finally realize who, and what, you’re dealing with. You have to come to terms that you’re dealing with a monster, but with that realization comes true freedom – because you can never go back, only forward.
You’ve Been Trained to Throw Yourself in Front of the Bus
You may have been raised in a home with an alcoholic, an addict or a narcissist. In those homes the parent and their issues come first. The spouse of the damaged parent spends a lot of time worrying and trying to change their spouse. With everyone putting the narcissistic parent first, there is little energy left over for the children.
There is little positive emotional energy in homes like these. What is being modeled in these families are unhealthy, unsafe relationships. The children suffer the most, because the scars from childhood repeat for them in adulthood through an attraction to abusive relationships.
It is impossible for an adult child of an addict, or narcissist, to enter adulthood without serious emotional problems, including codependence. The pathological narcissist thrives on a steady diet of adults who have trouble believing they deserve to be treated well.
The right book can set you free
I woke up to my own emotional problems when I read the wonderful book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents. The book made everything clear in an instant. Through real life stories and the gentle narration of the author - I finally understood my magnetic attraction to self-absorbed, Narcissistic people.
I feel right at home with them for a reason, and I don't want to give away the insights of the book here. It's better to just read and absorb Ms. Gibson's wisdom and clinical expertise. I can tell you it helped me identify my own childhood wound, and awareness leads to mindfulness which leads to healthier choices.
The book has tremendous value for anyone who's grown-up with troubled, self absorbed parents and the impact it has had on the lack of quality in their friendships and romantic relationships.
The relationship with a malignant narcissist forced me to face the real issue: Did I really believe I deserved to be in a healthy, loving, reciprocal relationship, or did I, deep down, believe I was doomed to unsatisfying relationships that were destructive, toxic and unsatisfying?
A Toxic Person Will Remain Toxic
If your survival as a child required you focus on every nuance of a parent’s mood – then you probably have a tendency to be over vigilant in your relationships. Growing up with a narcissist is literally growing up in an emotional minefield.
In other words, your primary love relationship takes up an extraordinary amount of your mental and emotional energy. Your brain is hard-wired to be so tuned in to someone else that you can’t take care of your own emotional needs and safety. It’s one of the primary symptoms of co-dependence.
You expend so much mental energy on the narcissist that your other relationships, interests and goals go on the back burner. When everything else takes a back seat, your life becomes unbalanced, and that’s when true misery settles over your soul.
This is what was happening to me during my time in my toxic relationship. The narcissist in my life was draining me to a point that it took all my strength to function at my job and other areas of my life - never mind a social life. My ex made sure that I was so busy attending to all of her emotional needs that there wasn’t much room to maintain healthy friendships with other people. I didn’t know how to disconnect from her drama. I wasn’t able to set good boundaries.
This a common problem for people who grow up to be codependent – an inability to set healthy boundaries with other people. I had spent most of my life not knowing where I end and someone else begins. It started to dawn on me that I was not responsible for anyone else’s feelings or problems.
The Beginning of the End: How do You Really Feel?
It was not my job to repair another human being. My new mantra became “I didn’t break it. I can’t fix it.” By continuing to accept responsibility for things that were beyond my control – I was actually the co-creator in my miserable relationships.
Learning how to feel my feelings became imperative, because I realized my ex-narcissist was slowly destroying me emotionally. I started tuning in to how I really felt when I heard from her. The knot in my stomach was a sure sign that I was uncomfortable, but I was mixing up discomfort with love.
Separate love from fear
I realized that feeling nauseous when dealing with her was a sure sign I shouldn’t be dealing with her at all. Once I got the feelings and thoughts straight in my head – I realized that what I had felt towards this person wasn’t love, it was more like pity and fear, but it wasn’t love.
Anyone who’s spent a lot of time with a narcissist knows, deep down, that the person causes them pain – especially if it’s a love relationship. If you’re still in a relationship with your narcissist, you may be thinking there is some hope. Maybe you’ve given up years of your life trying to keep your sinking ship afloat.
Until you release your need to make it work with someone who is pathologically focused on themselves, you will stay stuck. The breakup forced me to decide: Save myself, or stay in something that would eventually destroy me. I chose me.
The minute you become willing to acknowledge that you’re in a toxic relationship, and you don’t feel good about it, is the first stepping-stone to regaining emotional freedom and peace. Feeling my own feelings and taking responsibility for them was painful but necessary. I was truly serious about forming healthier attachments and attracting a relationship that was actually good for me.
The Healing Begins: Seeing The Narcissist For Who They Really Are
Sometimes it’s easier to idealize people and look the other way when their behavior is less than stellar. Everyone deserves a second chance. In a healthy relationship we sometimes accept certain qualities in our partner that we may not love – but aren’t serious enough to end a relationship.
I had to open my eyes to what I was really dealing with, before I could make peace with the fact that there was no future with her. The selfish, self-absorbed, entitled behavior made a reciprocal, healthy relationship impossible.
She would feign flashes of insight about her behavior. She would cry and apologize – then she would quickly turn it around and blame me for her bad behavior. Then she’d wait a few days and do it all again, an exhausting cycle with no respite. This is what narcissists do; they are incapable of true empathy or insight.
Where Can You Turn When You’re Climbing Out of Hell?
My Buddhist practice has saved me on many occasions. The type of Buddhism I practice requires chanting – an excellent form of active mediation. While I was still suffering the after effects of my toxic relationship, and harboring fantasies that she would show up at my door and apologize, I turned to my spiritual practice. I reached out to other Buddhist friends, went to meetings and participated to the best of my ability.
Whether you’re Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, or Buddhist - your religion is there to help. Prayer works if you’re willing to admit you need healing. You just have to ask. Even if you haven’t participated in your religion for a long time, you will find a welcoming community that’s willing to support you. It certainly helped me in during my darkest hours.
Accepting Responsibility For The Choices You Make
There’s a famous spiritual quote that circulates on Facebook. It says: “Let go or be dragged.” It sums up the connection to a narcissist or any other personality-disordered individual. You have to be the one to disconnect because they won’t. They will mingle on the outskirts of your life for as long as you’re willing to communicate or leave the door cracked open. The door has to be completely shut.
It’s easy to blame the narcissist, but the truth is we’re choosing to engage. We are making a conscious choice to take on an impossible relationship with an impossible person. As adults we always have the choice to let go.
Once I had assumed responsibility for throwing myself under that particular bus, my angst began to lessen. I reminded myself regularly that what I participated in was always my choice, and that each new moment of each new day presented a fresh opportunity to make better choices.
Taking Responsibility: A Toxic Relationship Takes Two
People who are not codependent do not get involved with narcissists. The reason for this is that a person who’s used to a healthy dynamic would be unable to tolerate the constant abuse.
Codependence is a reliance on relationships that hurt. It is an inability to trust our own feelings and get out of our own way. When you’re codependent, you hang on to bad relationships for dear life – not acknowledging that you’re causing your own pain.
Reading some books on the subject helped me deal with my codependent nature and the pain it was causing me. I was picking the very people who would hurt me the most, and I was unable to set healthy boundaries with the narcissists in my family.
Melody Beattie’s book “Codependent No More” is a classic for a reason. Keeping this book handy and referring back to it when I felt myself slipping into wanting and needing my ex was a tremendous help during the healing process.
I also read several books on Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Between reading and attending Codependent’s Anonymous meetings for a while, I slowly began to heal. Once we understand ourselves, and our codependence better, the less we are willing to tolerate toxic behavior.
Redirecting Your Energy and Focus
When a relationship with a narcissist ends it creates a vacuum. So much of the relationship revolved around you and the narcissist obsessing over the narcissists needs, that you forget how to focus on other things, including your own needs.
Focusing on other things helped me work through the healing process. Renewing some of my personal commitments to myself, such as doing my writing and daily hiking, helped me feel that I was accomplishing something. This helped boost my self-esteem back to normal levels.
Rediscovering what you’re good at and devoting some time and energy to doing what you love will help you through the breakup with the narcissist. It will also make room for people in your life who share your interests and passion. I naturally started to attract quality people.
I made a lot of new friends during the healing process. Reaching out to make new friends and reconnecting with old friends was a welcome diversion during my narcissist recovery program. Before I knew it, I no longer had any desire or secret fantasies about rekindling a relationship with the narcissist. I was too busy and having too much fun.
You Can Change What You’re Attracting and What You’re Attracted to
Getting out and pursuing my own interests, rediscovering my spiritual practice and making new friends helped me get a better handle on what healthy connections looked like. As soon as I started “doing me,” everything else fell into place. I was able to be more discriminating about the type of people that I wanted around me. I did run across another narcissist in my new circle of friends. It took about a month to realize I was dealing with another toxic person, and I ended the friendship immediately.
The universe or God, or whatever you believe in, will provide you with exactly what you think you deserve. Changing a mindset takes some time, but it’s not as hard as you might think. It is well worth it to spend time alone getting in touch with what you want and need.
It has now been two years since the relationship with the narcissist ended, and I can honestly say I’ve never felt stronger, happier or more at ease with myself. I am dating and socializing and keeping an eye out for the healthy person who’s worthy of my time and energy. Next time, I’m no longer accepting crumbs.
© 2014 Macteacher
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
I am now trying to recover after 4 years of toxicity of a narcissist. I do feel pain. Do you have any advice for the rumination of the mind that wants to keep going over the ordeal?
Our minds can be our worst enemy when recovering from toxic relationships. I suggest treating your mind like you would a pesky toddler who bugs you about buying the same toy over and over. Distraction is key. Distract your mind and fill it with other people and interests. When my mind ruminates I find distractions, cleaning, gardening, painting, writing, arts and crafts...any task that gives me a sense of accomplishment. We also have things like Netflix. Find a show you've been meaning to watch and watch the whole thing. Get caught up in something else.Helpful 8